Keep Punching, Russ

Thank goodness for Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., one of the good guys, who is willing to stand up in Washington and fight for liberty, justice and other attributes listed in the Declaration of Independence, defense of which used to be a no-brainer for politicians of both major parties.

When his party's leadership was caving in on renewal of the PATRIOT Act after modest changes in the police-state bill, Feingold said, "If Democrats can't stand up on something like this when the president's poll numbers are 34%, I just wonder how much right we have to govern this country. You've got to show people you believe in something, not just that you're gaming the issues."

Then, after the Judiciary and Intelligence committees punted hearings on Bush's warrantless wiretaps in apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, when Feingold passed around a resolution to censure the president, most other Democrats hid from it. (Sens. Barbara Boxer and Tom Harkin are notable exceptions.) Some others, including Vermonters Pat Leahy (D) and Jim Jeffords (I), at least supported hearings on the resolution. Republican Leader Bill Frist cynically proposed to put Feingold's censure resolution up for an immediate Senate vote, before any public hearings were held to determine what the administration actually has done and whether illegally intercepted messages may have been used for political purposes. (After the Valerie Plame incident, does anyone still think that the Bush-Cheney White House would not use intelligence information for political purposes?)

Feingold was the only vote against the original PATRIOT Act a month after the 9/11 attacks. This time around, he got nine other senators to vote against the reauthorization.

Feingold questioned Alberto Gonzales at his 2005 confirmation hearing about whether the president has the authority to violate the law simply because he is commander in chief. Gonzales, who was under oath, replied that the question was "hypothetical" but it was "not the policy or the agenda of the president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes." At that time Bush already had ordered wiretaps without going to the FISA court, as the law requires.

When Gonzales came back to the Judiciary Committee in February, Chairman Arlen Specter refused to put the attorney general under oath despite the evidence that he already had lied to the committee. Gonzales insisted that no laws were broken when Bush ordered the warrantless wiretapping. Feingold said Gonzales "has taken mincing words to a new high." He added, "There's no question in my mind that when you answered the question that was a hypothetical you knew it was not a hypothetical -- and you were under oath at the time."

But the Republican majority is not inclined to call Gonzales or Bush on their lies, so it's not perjury and it's not impeachable. At least not until Democrats get a majority.

They won't get there by cringing in fear that they'll be attacked as weak on national security, but it is now becoming apparent that multinational corporations are what George Bush and his Republican cronies really care about. Feingold voted against the war in Iraq, has been a consistent critic of the occupation and he has called for a reduction of troops there. The Republican National Committee recently announced that intends to run ads attacking Feingold in his home state, but his stands didn't hurt him in Wisconsin when he was re-elected in 2004 with 300,000 votes to spare.

Now he is travelling the country, campaigning and raising funds for progressive Democratic candidates for Congress while he considers a run for president in 2008. His political action committee, the Progressive Patriots Fund, has raised $664,766 and had $294,476 on hand as of Jan. 31. To help, see progressivepatriotsfund.com or call (608) 831-1308.


Don't Enable GOP

When Republicans last November put forth a resolution to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq, fraudulently representing it as the position of Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., House Democrats should have refused to vote on it. Instead, they took the bait and joined the GOP in voting against the straw-man resolution. When on March 1 the Senate Rules Committee considered two different reform proposals, it rejected the Democrats' lobbying reform bill with a 10-8 party-line vote. Then Sen. Trent Lott's watered-down version was passed unanimously, with support of the Democrats.

The Dems want to do what's right, and as Scott Shields of MyDD.com wrote, the Republican bill might bring them 60% of the way to good policy. But, Shields adds, "There's a lot of corruption Republicans can figure out to shoehorn into that remaining 40%. And it's also bad politics. There can be no cooperation with Republicans on ethics. It's like cooperating with a pack of wolves on a plan to protect the sheep."

With the scandals on K Street and Capitol Hill, the onus is on the Republicans to pass a reform bill in this session. Democrats should not waste this chance to press for reforms that actually will make a difference, such as public financing of congressional elections. That would take lobbyist contributions out of the game. Democrats should not settle for a feel-good bill that probably will end up sticking it to progressive interest groups. House Republicans, for example, recently announced that their "ethics" bill would crack down on independent committees that heavily aided Democrats in the 2004 election. The so-called "527" groups that operate independently of political parties would no longer be allowed to collect unlimited sums from wealthy backers.

This won't eliminate committees that run attack ads, though it might make it more difficult for progressive groups to raise funds. Money will still find its way to candidates who occupy themselves in the service of tax breaks and regulatory relief.


Press is More than Property

When McClatchy Newspapers in March agreed to buy the Knight Ridder chain for $4.5 billion, plus $2 billion in debt, there was a sense of relief in the journalism community. The sense was that it could have been much worse for the nation's most prestigious newspaper chain, which boasts 84 Pulitzer Prizes among 32 dailies.

Stock speculators, unhappy with a lower return on investment as newspapers have hit a rough patch in the past few years, pressed the Knight Ridder board to sell out. To Wall Street the newspapers were properties that a few years ago were getting 20% to 30% margins and now were stuck with 10% returns -- which most industries would be glad to book. But speculators who bought during the boom demanded the short-term gain. That impulse overruled the judgment that this is a bad time to put newspapers on the market.

Then McClatchy, based in Sacramento, Calif., announced that it would sell 12 of the Knight Ridder papers, mainly those with lower profit margins, stagnant markets and unionized staffs. Papers back on the auction block include newspapers in Philadelphia, St. Paul, Minn., Duluth, Minn., Grand Forks, N.D., San Jose, Calif., Aberdeen, S.D., Akron, Ohio, Fort Wayne, Ind., Contra Costa, Calif., Monterey, Calif., and Wilkes Barre, Pa.

The Newspaper Guild, which represents writers and photographers, is trying to put together financing to buy some of the papers, but it is more likely that the struggling papers will go to Dean Singleton, whose MediaNews has taken newspapers that are "underperforming," broken their unions where necessary and pared their staffs to the bone. Perhaps he has saved some newspapers that otherwise would have gone under, but in other cases he has simply increased profits. On Wall Street that makes him a good guy.

Support your independent media while you can. -- JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2006

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